Finding Neverland in the Nandi Hills
5:30 am: The rooster crows and I am pulled from restless slumber. I've been in six different cities in the past week, and my body doesn't know where it is or what a full night’s sleep feels like anymore. Wide awake, I get out of bed and throw on running shoes and tights- chasing daybreak with Andrew. The sunrise over the Rift Valley calls to me, and I have no choice but to follow. A walk turns to a jog, and suddenly we are following winding dirt roads through the forest waving at young students as they walk to school. Little moments of peace before the big day ahead.
7:30 am: Back for breakfast at the dining hall. We meet with Toby Tanser, the founder of Shoe4Africa, an incredible non-profit that has helped build five schools and the first public children’s Hospital in East Africa. Toby is eccentric, full of stories, and always inspiring. We also meet with Kevin Thompson, founder and director of Cross World Africa, as well as our former coach at Cornell. Morning banter over sweet bread and eggs before we head to Shoe4Africa’s Secondary School in Kosirai. It’s named in honor of London Marathon star Martin Lee, who helped found the school back in 2009. Kosarai Secondary school is the second institution to partner with Ruby in the Rift and I am eager to meet the women I’ll be working with and the girls I will be teaching. As the crow flys, the school isn't that far away from where I’m staying but the roads in East Africa always give way to adventure. Toby bravely takes the wheel, swerving past matatus (community taxis) and big trucks like it's no big deal. I grab the handle, the "oh-shit bar" as my mom likes to call it, and hold on for dear life.
10:00 am: Choosing the path less traveled, we opt for the adventurous route to the school that Toby built in 2009. I’m starting to feel more at home on the dirt roads, the dips and big rocks, winding through forested farm land and tea plantations. I’m not sure what driver I am going to find to transport me out to this school every week, but surely the universe will provide. The anticipation is building as we make the final turn into the school.
11:00 am: We made it. Graciously met by the principal and the headteacher, we are ushered into the conference room for refreshments and small talk. Toby makes the introductions and Cross World Africa begins discussing the project. I express gratitude for the opportunity to be here and collaborate with local teachers. I try to remain calm, but I can barely contain my excitement. First class is next Thursday, and I should be working with about 100 girls.
11:30 am: Time to meet the teachers, and the students. I can see some students staring at the four mzungus (Swahili term for foreigners) wandering around the school grounds. The teachers are more shy than the students in some ways, but I know that won’t last for long. The biggest thing is being confident enough to be silly and break the ice.
1:30 pm: Back to Eldoret, for our the last stops for the day. After a quick lunch, we head to Shoe4Africa Children’s Hospital. Opened in 2015, this is the first of its kind for East Africa. Unfortunately in this region, as Toby explained, children are at the bottom of the totem pole for medical care. Adults are prioritized over children in terms of receiving treatment because of the likelihood that those parents have other kids to care for, and it is better to save one adult to keep more kids off the street. This brutal kind of triage is tragic, but it also inspired Shoe4Africa to take action. Toby’s hospital treats over 100,000 kids each year at little to no cost to families in need. Built by donors, and subsidized by the government, this hospital is able to serve and provide care to those who need it the most.
3:30 pm: The tour. Toby takes us around the hospital, giving us an opportunity to interact with patients and staff alike. Burn room. Cancer room. Recovery room. My heart breaks for the sick and injured children. I spend sometime with a mother who was a college student in Nairobi but had to drop out because her daughter became ill. Only 1.5 years old, she is on her fifth round of chemotherapy. I touch my hand to my heart and lock eyes with this strong woman. So much of communication is nonverbal and we embrace. I could thank each and every donor that made this safe haven possible for these children and families. Without their support, where would these kids be?
5:00 pm: Homeward bound. I sit in the back of the car, reflecting on the highs and lows of my day. Toby shares a story of his time in Iten during 2008 and the election. The riots. The fighting. The confrontations between tribes. I asked him why he stayed during such political unrest when his own life was at risk. His answer was simple. “Because I was of more use to people here than at home.” International work isn’t always as glorified as it sounds. It’s hard, its raw, and can be downright dangerous. But at the end of the day, it is one of the most gratifying things you can ever do. It’s not what you have, it’s what you give.
9:00 pm: Lights out.